Interpol's Head Responds to Web Rumors

Americans have enough to contend with in the struggle against terrorism without being distracted by ill-informed or misdirected attacks on policies that enhance their security. International police cooperation is vital to keeping Americans and citizens all over the world as safe as possible.

As recently as Jan. 18, despite careful rebuttals by the NRA and other conservatives, there were bloggers up in arms over a recent executive order concerning Interpol, where I have served as secretary general for nine years. Many cling to former Speaker Newt Gingrich's ill-considered and unsupported claim that an executive order, which was signed by President Obama—the real target of the blogs—allows international police to operate in the United States unfettered by U.S. law. Following Mr. Gingrich's comments on The O'Reilly Factor in which he said the order removed all American constraints from Interpol, bloggers such as "Northbound" have picked up the point, saying "[Interpol agents] now have the ability to arrest anyone (including you) without regard to any laws of the United States of America including our Constitution." Such an interpretation is simply impossible if you know anything about U.S. law or about Interpol.

An executive order cannot legally authorize an unconstitutional act, and this one doesn't even come close. Moreover, Interpol does not conduct law-enforcement operations. Mr. Gingrich and a few others claim that the order grants "full diplomatic immunity" to Interpol, even though the International Organizations Immunities Act, the statute authorizing the order, specifically says it does not. As the National Rifle Association has said concerning this issue: "Our legal staff has reviewed this order and does not believe it poses any of these threats."

Some bloggers have been unrelenting and inflammatory, ignoring both the facts and the law. Instead of making sure that Americans are focusing on Al Qaeda and terrorists, some bloggers appear to be using Interpol for another political attack against President Obama, who has never even spoken of Interpol.

Interestingly, they do not attack former president Ronald Reagan whose conservative credentials are above reproach. A quarter of century ago he said this about Interpol, words that ring even truer today:

"It is Interpol that institutionalizes and makes vastly easier those professional contacts and vital exchanges of information that each of you needs to serve the people of your country. Interpol's record of achievement in these areas is unparalleled, and let me stress today that the United States Government pledges to you and your organization its full support."

Reagan signed the first executive order in 1983 granting immunities to Interpol. He was not "on the left" and was not seeking to "coerce Americans" with international law, as Mr. Gingrich claims the recent order is intended. Reagan was supporting Interpol and its now 188 member countries to fight serious international crime, including terrorism, through the effective exchange of information and cooperation.

I confess that as secretary general, I never expected that any citizen would try to undermine Interpol's work, to take political shots when their own security is in such peril. Nor did I expect Americans to distort history, as some have done by falsely stating that "Reagan administration officials decided that (Interpol) merited limited protection but, because it was a police force, it should not receive unqualified protection from U.S. laws."

In fact, the rationale for Reagan's limited granting of immunity appears in a 1983 Department of Justice memorandum: "Since Interpol does not have an office or staff in the United States, and therefore has no property, assets, archives, or permanent employees located in the United States, several of the specific privileges, exemptions and immunities available under the IOIA may be inapplicable or irrelevant to Interpol."

Times have changed since President Reagan's executive order; the terrorist threat has grown more serious. Global reliance upon Interpol's support has increased. Indeed, the growing terrorist threat led the U.S., under President Bush, and other countries to ask Interpol to help the U.N. create reliable no-fly lists, so law enforcement and security officials around the world could keep dangerous terrorists off airplanes.

When asked to open a New York office, Interpol could have said: "Not until we are treated like 75 other international organizations with offices in the U.S.," but we knew the importance of the work we were being asked to do. I also knew the U.S. would eventually accord our offices the same security provided other international organizations. My trust was well-placed; the Bush State Department endorsed our request, and President Obama made it official, extending the immunity that Reagan had granted to our new offices.

At Interpol global headquarters in France, we collect information that, when shared, assists law-enforcement agencies around the world in protecting their citizens. Our organization's member countries have provided more than 11 million records of lost and stolen passports, which U.S. law enforcement searched more than 78 million times last year. The databases enhanced by the work of our New York office inhibit terrorists like Ramzey Yousef, who used a stolen passport while masterminding the first World Trade Center bombing, from international travel, thereby enhancing the national security interest of the U.S. and all our member countries.

I worry that misinformation circulating in the blogosphere might delay reliance upon Interpol to help police prevent criminal acts by a terrorist, human and drug traffickers or a wanted pedophile. That could end in tragedy.

The NRA's analysis for its members says all that needs to be said about the bloggers' misinformation circulating about Interpol and its relationship with the United States: "Rumors abound, so don't believe everything you read."

Good advice!